People went swimming in the Middle Ages for a bunch of reasons, including cooling off in the summer and getting clean. Some of these are more ceremonial, such as baptisms, or people swimming in the Fountain of Youth. The focus here is more on swimming for leisure -- how people went swimming in the Middle Ages for fun -- than ceremonial dips in water. This also avoids actual baths (baths and bathing are on another page here) as well as depictions of Venus, Bathsheba or Susannah bathing.
What clothes did medieval people swim in? Men often seem to wear their breeches while swimming -- if they wear anything at all.
For historical instructions on swimming, see A short introduction for to learne to swimme, gathered out of Master Digbies Booke of the Art of Swimming.
See also Early British Swimming.
- One man swims while another treads water, the Queen Mary Psalter (British Library Royal 2 B VII, fol. 170r), c. 1310-1320
- Bas-de-page under the martyrdom of Saint Denis, Life and Martyrdom of Saint Denis (BNF Fr. 2092, fol. 10v), 1317
- Swimming in a bas-de-page (fol. 105v) and an illuminated letter (fol. 262v), Digesta (BNF Latin 14341), 1st quarter of the 14th century
- Pilgrims swimming in the Jordan (129v) and the Dead Sea (fol. 165v), Mandeville's Voyages (BNF Fr. 2810), c. 1410-1412
- August, Les très riches heures du Duc de Berry, c. 1412-1416
- Tuscany, Secrets of Natural History (BNF Fr. 1379, fol. 2v), c. 1428
- How Alexander was dubbed a knight in an order of chivalry (Comment Alexandre fut adoubé en l'ordre de chevalerie), Le Livre des Conquestes et Faits d'Alexandre (Musée du Petit-Palais L.Dut.456, fol. 18v), mid-15th century
- Young men learn to swim, Antiquities of the Jews (BNF Fr. 14, fol. 21), 1480
- The Legend of Cloelia: Cloelia urges her companions to swim to safety by Guidoccio di Giovanni Cozzarelli, c. 1480
- Tuscany, Secrets of Natural History (BNF Fr. 22971, fol. 59), c. 1480-1485
- August, Breviary of Eleanor of Portugal (M.52, fol. 5v), c. 1500-1510
- Boys swimming, Book of Hours of the Ango Family (BNF NAL 392, fol. 134v), c. 1515
- The Fountain of Youth by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1546
- July by Etienne Delaune
- July by Etienne Delaune
- A short introduction for to learne to swimme, gathered out of Master Digbies Booke of the Art of Swimming, 1595
The Fishes in the Sea, whose continuall life is spent in the water, in them dooth no man denie swimming to be the onely gift which Nature hath bestowed vpon them, and shall wee thinke it then artificiall in a man, which in it dooth by many degrees excell them, as dyuing downe to the bottoms of the deepest waters, and fetching from thence whatsoeuer is there sunck downe, transporting things to and fro at his pleasure, sitting, tumbling, leaping, walking, and at his ease perfourmeth many fine feates in the water, which far exceeds the naturall gifts bestowed on Fishes? nay so fit is the constitution of mans body, that who so dooth but with himselfe throughly consider of it, cannot but accord with mee in thys, that a man of all creatures vnder the circumference of heauen, naturally excelleth in swimming.
For all our evidence of the joy (and utility in transportation) northerners took in skating on frozen water in winter, the extent of summer swimming in medieval Europe is a fairly open question. We know that some people certainly could swim, although the skill was rare enough to be remarked.How did the Middle Ages affect the Renaissance? ›
Historians have identified several causes for the emergence of the Renaissance following the Middle Ages, such as: increased interaction between different cultures, the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts, the emergence of humanism, different artistic and technological innovations, and the impacts of conflict ...How was the Renaissance different from the Middle Ages? ›
A very prominent difference between the Renaissance and Middle Ages is that of the art. The Renaissance artists followed the more classical form of art. They portrayed human beauty and the religion predominantly. The Renaissance artists had a deep sense of perspective and developed two dimensional effects.Could people swim in the 1400s? ›
Some people in the 1400's could, and did, swim but many did not including many sailors. Columbus had grown up by the sea so he probably had plenty of opportunities to learn how to swim and he must have been a strong swimmer. The distance from his ship to the shore must have been daunting.